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World Conflicts Threaten to Destroy Civilization

The twentieth century saw the two most destructive wars in history. The wars came about through the clash of the great forces described in previous units –nationalism, the growth of science and industry and rivalry for power and empire. Since these forces were felt round the world, the conflicts they caused became “world wars.” So great was the destruction and loss of life that world peace became the chief necessity of our time and new world organizations were formed to achieve this goal.

We learn how the rivalry between European powers finally exploded in World War II. Under the strain of this exhausting war, old empires toppled and subject peoples won the right to govern themselves. In Russia, however, affairs took a different turn. We describe how the Russian people, restless under the oppressive rule of the czars and weary of war, revolted in 1917, but power soon was seized by Communists who set up a ruthless dictatorship. Under Communist rule, the needs and rights of the Russian people were sacrificed to build up the industrial and military power of the state.

During the 1920’s and 1930’s dictators also took over Italy and Germany. These dictators, Mussolini and Hitler, sought more land and power in a series of aggressions against other countries. Democratic peoples everywhere were alarmed at the way the dictators abused the rights of individuals and nations, but the democracies were reluctant to risk war by taking a firm stand against the dictators. Aggressions continued and World War II broke out. Reckless attacks by Germany and Japan finally brought together a powerful opposing alliance, which included Britain, the United States and Russia. These “United Nations” won the war and started on the difficult task of building a permanent peace.

Aggressor Nations Fail to Achieve World Conquest

aggressor nations

It was summer in 1939, vacation time for lots of people. No one knows how many Americans heard the voice of the British statesman Winston Churchill coming over the air on August 8, less than a month before World War 2 began. His words were grim, prophetic and weighted with bitter humour. “Holiday time, ladies and gentlemen! Holiday time, my friends across the Atlantic! Holiday time, when the summer calls the toilers of all countries for an all too brief spell from the offices and mills and stiff routine of daily life and bread-winning and sends them to seek, if not rest, at least change in new surroundings, to return refreshed and keep the myriad wheels of civilized society on the move.” Thus began the stockily built Englishman with the round face and the big cigar. As he talked, his light mood changed. He spoke of the “hush” which he said was “hanging over Europe.”  Aggressions by the aggressor nations (Axis powers) plunged the world into the greatest of all wars. “What kind of a hush is it?” Churchill asked his radio audience. “Alas! It is the hush of suspense and in many lands it is the hush of fear. . . . Listen carefully; I think I hear something — yes, there it is, quite clear. Don’t you hear it? It is the tramp of armies crunching the gravel of the parade grounds, splashing through rain-soaked fields, the tramp of 2 million German soldiers and more than a million Italians going on maneuvers –yes, only on maneuvers! Of course, it’s only maneuvers -just like last year. After all, the dictators must train their soldiers. They could scarcely do less in common prudence, when the Danes, the Dutch, the Swiss, the Albanians and of course the Jews, may leap out at any moment and …

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Dictators in Germany and Italy Challenge Democracies


Dictators came to power in many European countries during the twenty years following World War I. About 9:20 P.M. on February 27, 1933, the rumble and clang of fire engines echoed through the heart of Berlin, capital city of Germany. Down the broad avenue called Unter den Linden the trucks roared toward the Reichstag building where the German legislature met, but the firemen were too late; they could not check the flames which licked savagely from the windows. Within a few hours the big building was no more than a smoke-stained skeleton. The Reichstag fire was a grim prophecy of what lay ahead for Germany. Investigation proved that the fire had been started at many points in the building at the same moment; but by whom? Police claimed they had the answer when they arrested a dull-witted fellow found poking about the fire-gutted building that night. He had been arrested before for setting fires; besides, they said, he was a Communist. It is quite possible, however, that the person mainly responsible for the fire was a man with unruly hair, burning eyes and a toothbrush mustache. The dictator of all dictators, his name was Adolf Hitler. The confusion and hard times which Germany had suffered since its defeat in World War I provided an excellent opportunity for power-hungry dictators like Hitler. A few months before the Reichstag fire he had been named Germany’s Chancellor, or Prime Minister. Neither dictators like Hitler nor the Nazi Party which backed him had a firm grip on the government. (The name Nazi consists of the first four letters of the German word for “National,” in the name of the National Socialist Party.) A troubled Europe saw the rise of dictators in Italy and Germany and violent civil war in Spain. A new election was set for March 5. Something had to be done to …

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Russia Becomes a Communist Dictatorship

When the United States entered World War 1, President Wilson had stated that America’s aim in taking up arms was “to make the world safe for democracy.” The first results of the war seemed to show that this attempt had succeeded. Old empires had crumbled and new republics had risen from their ruins. Democratic constitutions were adopted in most of the countries which the war had created or remodeled, but this apparent victory for democracy did not last, even though kings did not return to power as they had in 1815 after Napoleon’s defeat. What happened was that the kings were replaced in many countries by military adventurers or by ambitious political party leaders. This change occurred chiefly in those countries where the people had had little or no experience in self-government. Much of the world’s history from 1918 to 1939 was made by these dictators. Modern Russia overthrew czarist rule but came under the dictatorship of the Communist Party. Russia was the first major country to go through profound changes. Even before Germany was defeated, you will remember, Russia had overthrown its all-powerful Czar. The Communists, who soon seized power, set up what they called the “dictatorship of the proletariat,” or rule of the workingmen. Actually, power in Russia was centred in the hands of a few top leaders. The Communists established a system in which Western ideas of personal liberty, democracy and private ownership had no place. What is more, they tried to force Communist ideas on other countries. By their ruthless control over Russia’s millions they changed Russia from a defeated and disorganized country in 1918 to the greatest threat to the free world by the late 1940’s. 1815 A.D. – 1939 A.D. How did all this come about? Just as we found that the causes of …

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World War I and the Peace that Failed

The soldier stood on the muddy “fire step” that reached, shelflike, the length of the deep trench. It was too dark to see his tired, mud-smirched face or to judge how old he was. He wore a steel helmet or “tin hat” and the khaki coloured blouse, pants and spiral leggings of the British Expeditionary Force. The barrel of his Enfield rifle rested on the top of a sodden sandbag. Tensely he crouched, his head thrust forward and turned slightly to the right, the better to hear with. His squinting eyes bored into the foggy gray of pre-dawn light. If he only knew what was out there in the hundred yards of shell-pocked “no mans land” between the British and the German trenches! Had he heard the rasping sound that a man’s leather boots make as he crawls along the ground? Had he heard the dull plunk which meant another strand had been cut in the barbed-wire entanglement that zigzagged in front of the trenches? Was a German wiring party out there cutting a path for German troops to use to launch an attack on the British? Nervously his hand gripped tighter the stock of his rifle. Why didn’t the fog lift and the daylight come? He shook, partly from the cold and partly from nervousness. He was hungry and tired, too, but he had his job to do. Nations throughout the world lined up on opposing sides in World War I. This was the kind of fighting that took place in World War I, when Allied and German forces pinned each other down in deeply dug trenches. There was little of the open-held charging of earlier wars or of the rapid, slashing sweep of tanks that was to take place in World War II. Instead, World War I was …

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